WINLOCK — It was a scene out of 1919. An old tractor haying a field hummed in the background as two baseball teams played a doubleheader with all players, umpires and spectators wearing face masks.
But, no, it wasn’t Jan. 26, 1919, when the Pasadena Merchants and Standard-Murphys played a Southern California Winter League game — thought to be the only time in history prior to 2020 that a U.S. baseball game was played with everyone present wearing masks. That was just months before the third and final wave of the devastating Spanish flu.
Over a century later, Rural Baseball Inc. and Hockinson Hammertime were facing each other in a senior legion doubleheader on June 24, 2020 at Winlock High School. Both teams, all umpires and all spectators were wearing face coverings for what was likely one of the first times in U.S. baseball history since that 1919 game in Pasadena.
It came two days after the Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association released its return-to-play guidelines, encouraging the use of face coverings, and one day following Gov. Jay Inslee announcing a statewide mandatory face-covering order.
“You’re looking around and it was kind of surreal,” Nailon said. “You know you’re in the middle of a pandemic, yet when you’re on the baseball field things still kind of feel normal. You get lulled into that sense of normalcy and familiarity. Then you take a look around and no one’s in the stands and everybody’s got their masks on.”
Winlock School District is among the first in the state to open up its athletic facilities. The only other baseball fields open at this time in Lewis County are at Stan Hedwall Park in Chehalis and Wheeler Field in Centralia.
Nailon got word from Winlock School District that the game was a go at 5 p.m. Tuesday night on his way to go buck hay bales and was able to break the news to his players when he arrived. He’s appreciative the school district allowed his team to play at the high school.
“I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to get out there and do it,” Nailon said. “It’s obviously uncomfortable and the guys get hot, but at this point I feel lucky to be able to play. That’s what I’ve been telling the guys, ‘This is the sacrifice we have to make.’”
Rural Baseball fell in both games of the doubleheader against Hockinson Wednesday, 20-8 and 11-1. The Dirtbags are still working through getting guys their first outing on the mound this year and trying to figure out where everyone fits. Multiple players are having to move around when a pitcher subs out and Nailon is trying to figure out a shuffle that works best.
“We just don’t have our feet all the way underneath us right now,” Nailon said. “When you do you can make one pitching change and it doesn’t change the whole tenor of your defense. There are just so many changes going on that we’re a completely different team after that. For whatever reason, it killed our momentum today.”
A sixth-inning collapse spelled defeat for Rural Baseball as the Dirtbags fell 20-8 in Hockinson in seven innings.
Hockinson jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the second inning after an RBI single by Jake Talarico in the first and a slew of passed balls, including a dropped third strike, that allowed three runners to score on three consecutive at-bats.
The Dirtbags chipped away at the lead in the bottom of the second after a single and two consecutive walks loaded the bases for Tryan Thompson, whose sacrifice fly scored Mateo Vodjansky. A failed pickoff attempt at second scored Kyuss Mano from third to make it 4-2.
Two singles and a walk for the Dirtbags in the bottom of the third loaded the bases for Mckhi Morlin, who knocked in two runs on a ground-ball fielder’s choice to even the score at 4-4. The Dirtbags would take the lead for the first time at 5-4 after a wild pitch allowed Morlin to score from third base.
Rural Baseball increased its lead to 6-4 after Kalama High School’s Chase Staup’s infield single resulted in a overthrow to third base that scored Vodjansky. Kalama’s Jackson Hull followed that up with an RBI single to score Staup.
Staup registered his second-straight 1-2-3 inning on the mound in the top of the fifth, followed by Mano’s 334-foot blast to the left centerfield warning track that one-hopped the fence and scored Ben Woodrum.
“Kyuss really got into one,” Nailon said. “He’s been an outfielder-only for us and he said today, ‘I want to catch.’ And I threw him back there and he did a very commendable job, handled our pitchers well and gave us another good option back there.”
The Dirtbags looked fully in control, holding an 8-4 lead and keeping Hammertime’s offense extinguished.
But Hammertime rose from the coals in the bottom of the sixth and turned into a bonfire. Hockinson exploded for a nine-run sixth inning, fueled by seven hits, two walks and two errors to retake the lead at 14-8.
Hammertime tacked on six more runs in the seventh on a barrage of walks and the Dirtbags went down in four at-bats in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
“We just didn’t make the routine plays,” Nailon said. “That seems to be what’s really hurting us right now. We’ve got to get those gimme outs. Unfortunately, these are just painful lessons to learn. There’s no avoiding it.”
Rural Baseball let the back-end of the doubleheader get away from it in an 11-1 four-inning loss shortened by darkness.
Hammertime scored once in the first, and five runs each in the second and fourth innings to keep the Dirtbags at bay. Staup reached base on an error and scored the Dirtbags’ lone run in the fourth inning on Jackson Hull’s single, which was the Dirtbags’ only hit of the game.
Jesse Towns started on the mound for Rural Baseball and Woodrum entered in the second and finished the game as it became too dark to play.
Nailon praised the efforts of Winlock High School’s Chris Heikkila, who played well in the outfield and tallied one hit in the first game and nearly another in the second game but was thrown out at first from the outfield.
Toledo High School’s Kaden Sellards played in his first game of the year for the Dirtbags and he saw action in the outfield, at shortstop and on the mound.
“He really provided us with some depth at some key positions for us,” Nailon said. “I like the way he competed on the mound. Our positive takeaways are anywhere we can establish depth, get people in the pitching rotation and in the lineup and figure out the best way to move our pieces around.”